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The American Romantic Movement

Herman Melville
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Herman Melville

Herman Melville is an American author from the nineteenth century. The connection in this paper will be between Herman Melville’s pieces of writing, and the romanticism/transcendentalism movement. To begin, a biography of Melville’s life will be included. Along with this biography will be a list and information of the major pieces of writing. This will be followed by a paragraph clarifying the meaning of transcendentalism vs. romanticism, and where Herman Melville stands in this area. To finish, we will have a description of a short story written by Herman Melville, along with a conclusion.

Herman Melville was born in 1819 in New York City, coming from a merchant family. Third of eight, the attention given to him was limited, causing him to grow up on his own. In addition, his father, Allan Melville, died when Herman was twelve years old. Due to the Scarlet fever, Melville eyesight got weaker in 1826. In 1835, Herman intended Albany Classical School. He then left school, and worked as a clerk, and a teacher. His mother, who had been raising him on her own since his father was dead, brought out his imaginative and creative side, which he will later use for his writings. In 1839, Melville shipped out for some adventures. Then, he joined the U.S navy, and traveled on ships for years, sailing the Atlantic and the South Seas. The traveling stopped a little, and he lived in Hanoi as a clerk and bookkeeper, living with cannibals. After these adventures, he went back to his mother’s house to write about them. He writes “Omoo” in 1847, about his adventures on the Polynesian Islands. In 1847, he marries Elisabeth Shaw, daughter of the chief justice of Massachusetts. Good friend with Nathaniel Hawthorne, he buys a farm in New York next to Hawthorne’s home. He writes the book of his career:”Moby Dick”. Behind this novel is a story: Herman writes “Moby Dick” obsessively, night and day, without sleeping and eating. He dedicates the book to Nathaniel Hawthorne, who tells him that the book would be better off being an allegorical novel. After this request, Herman Melville agrees. Herman expects that the book will be a hit, and the audience does not enjoy it as much as he expects. It is only thirty years after his death that the novel comes out as an important novel of the American culture and history. The novel itself, “Moby Dick” is an allegorical story of Man vs. Nature, with no side taken. It is unknown who the enemy is; it could be as much the wale as it is the human. This is an important point because it shows where Herman Melville stands in romanticism. He can be as much of a romantic as he can be a transcendentalist, due to the fact that he brings nature into the novel, but the message sent to the reader is that men can hurt nature as much as nature can hurt men. “Moby Dick” has a secondary allegory, regarding the Gold Rush, having the whale represent the gold.

Herman Melville’s place in literature throughout that time is unique. It is not clear where Melville stands in terms of romanticism. Romanticism is a type of writing in which the author describes nature. The author uses nature as a tool to express his thoughts, and make the story movement. Other aspects of romanticism are individuality, separating one from the rest of the civilization in order to increase emotional growth. There is an important focus in emotions, independence, and spirituality. It is believed that these aspects of life are natural, bringing out the creative and undistracted sides of humans. The visual arts are an important factor of romanticism as well, the authors making the reading as graphic as possible, leaving the reader to make his own imaginations of the environment described. Transcendentalism is a literary movement of the nineteenth century as well. The transcendentalists were based in New England, inspired by the romanticism movement. The believers thought that the intuition, emotion, individual conscience are more valid and believable then the left brain. An example of both of these terms, romanticism and transcendentalism, of Herman Melville’ writing is “Moby Dick”. The romantic side of the story is the nature. The man is out in the ocean, interacting with an animal, there are no distractions, and he is just out on his own. The main character learns information about himself. There is also the simplicity of the mind, which fits in categories, romanticism and transcendentalism. The man is away from rural and social distractions; he is simply using a piece of wood to live on as a boat. He is out in the nature, and any distractions that he will use are simple spiritual distractions. There is also a proof of simple transcendentalism in the book, regarding the intuitions. The main character is following his intuitions in the fight against nature: the whale. This action is the basis of transcendentalism.

The short story I read by Hermann Melville takes place in Wall Street, New York City. The plot of the short story revolves around business on Wall Street. There are three men working in a office on Wall Street, and there is the narrator, who is the fourth. Those three men give themselves nicknames: Turkey, Nippers, and Ginger Nut. They are all different. One of the men is an office-boy who takes the job as an experience. He gets paid about one dollar a week, which is decent back in the days. The story has dialogue, and is also just the thoughts and narration of our main character, who doesn’t reveal himself much. The intensity of the story starts when a man, by the name of Bartleby enters the office, and gets hired. The main character makes an effort in order to give the fifth employee a reasonable amount of room in the office. Bartleby is at first welcomed and appreciated, but the time goes on, and one day, after being requested to complete a load of work, refuses saying:”I would prefer not to.” The man makes a habit out of refusing to work. This goes on like this for a while, until the main character realizes that Bartleby is living in the office. He finds out after finding Bartleby’s stuff. Surprisingly, the main character is not showing any animosity towards his well-mannered, but not reasonable guest. The main character has trouble confronting the man about it, and as the intensity of the story increases, he finds the courage to. All the employees of the office keep asking Bartleby to process paper, but he refuses, it the same line over and over again:” I would prefer not to”. The man makes a habit out of it, and stays silent, or answers the same line over and over again. It is obvious that the man wants to simply stay and live in the office. He is asked to leave, and refuses. He starts to behave like the office is his, and at this point, the main character reacts. Bartleby ends up in jail, after having rejected the main character’s request to come live with him for a little bit. His only additional comment is that he does not want to have to deal with change. The main character is practically down on his knees for him, and he is acing like a little boy. The man ends up in jail, and our main character, after having gone above and beyond to help him out, drops it, and gets a lesson out of having those interactions with him.

My reaction to this reading is mixed. One reaction is simply to say “I would prefer not to” when being asked to answer the reading.

The element of transcendentalism that can be seen through the reader’s point of view is regarding the spiritual individuality, and well-being. It is obvious that one man is living in a healthy manner, able to go out of his comfort zone in order to help someone out, and that the other man is simply not emotionally grown. It is also amazing to see how much time it took a man to confront an incapable worker about his work, and living ethics, while it took a very little time to put this man in a jail. In interesting part of the reading of this short story was to see how the work was functioning on Wall Street in the past, where a hundred years later, this area would be the heart of the money of the richest country in the world. The sort story was enjoyable, although it was quite long at times when the author was describing.

The movement of romanticism is a common movement in the nineteenth century, although differs a bit when looking at different authors. All the authors that were part of this movement were part of it differently. Reading and writing about Herman Melville exposed me to one particular style of romanticism. It seems that in Herman Melville’s example, the reason of his involvement into the romantic movement were because of his mother’s exposure to nature, and spirituality. 

    

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